TraditionalMountaineering Logo - representing the shared 
companionship of the Climb

Home | Information | Photos | Calendar | News | Seminars | Experiences | Questions | Updates | Books | Conditions | Links | Search

  Search this site!
Read more:

How do digital mobile phones assist mountaineering and backcountry rescues?

Digital cell phones are being marketed today based on their inherent ability to provide the users general location in geographic Coordinants based on triangulations of cell phone tower ping records.
I have recently completed a page on this subject for this web site. During my research I found a "user friendly" article on how the process works. I have reprinted it here in the public interest.
---Webmeister Speik


Turning cell phones into lifelines
Cell phones constantly update their position by contacting cell towers, making them an important tool in finding lost persons.
By Marguerite Reardon, Staff Writer, CNET
December 5, 2006

Cellular phone networks have become key tools used by search and rescue teams as they try to locate people who've become lost in remote areas.

As has been reported in recent days, CNET Reviews editor James Kim and his family disappeared in Oregon during a Thanksgiving road trip. James' wife, Kati, and their two children, Penelope and Sabine, were found safe Monday afternoon. The body of James Kim, who left his family on Saturday in search of help, was found Wednesday.

Authorities conducting the search said at a news conference Monday that a signal sent from the Kims' mobile phone to a tower in the region was key to locating the family.

The search for the Kim family is the latest example of how important cell phone technology has become as a public safety tool.

While other technologies such as global positioning system, or GPS, navigation may help people find their way out of trouble, it does little to help when people are stranded on the side of the road like the Kims were. Tracking devices that send beacons to rescuers could be helpful, but they are used mostly by wilderness backpackers and backcountry skiers. Few people carry them on road trips. And even though satellite-based tracking technology exists, even fewer people are likely to consent to having their whereabouts tracked on a daily basis in the off chance that they might get lost on a backcountry road.

At the end of the day, the technology that has proved the most valuable for locating lost or missing people has been cellular phones.

"Navigation tools may help someone if they need to understand where they are to get to safety," said Kiyoshi Hamai, director of sales and product management with Mio Technology, a company that sells portable navigation devices using GPS technology. "But in order for someone to find you, you really need a device, like a cell phone, that can provide two-way communication."

Even General Motors' Onstar service, which provides GPS navigation and tracks cars when they are stolen, relies on a cellular network to communicate with the GPS receiver in the car.

"We don't communicate with our in-vehicle Onstar device via satellite," said Steve Davis, Service Line Manager for the Onstar Personal Communications service. "We connect to the device through a cellular phone connection. And if we can't connect to it through the cellular network, then we can't retrieve the GPS location information stored in the device."

So how does it all work? Mobile devices, when they are within range, constantly let cell towers and the mobile switching center, which is connected to multiple towers, know of their location. The mobile switching center uses the location information to ensure that incoming calls and messages are routed to the tower nearest to the user.

If a subscriber is unable to get service, this location information is usually purged from the mobile switching center. But some location information may remain in call detail records. Some mobile operators may store the most recent communication between a device and a mobile switching center for a certain period of time, usually 24 hours.

When someone is missing, even this small bit of information can prove useful in determining the approximate location of a device using the updates from the mobile switching center. If the mobile subscriber is still within cell phone range, authorities can track his or her general movement by following the sequence of towers the phone has contacted or pinged. And if the cell phone goes out of range or runs out of battery power, the mobile operator may be able to use the last recorded location before the cell phone either lost its signal or lost power.

But the most useful information for locating people when they are lost comes when someone has initiated or received a call or text message on their phone. Mobile operators keep records of these events for billing purposes in what is known as a call data record, or CDR. And they can go back to these records to get a historical account of the cell phone's location.

This is actually what authorities used to locate the Kims' phone, according to Eric Anderson, director of engineering for Edge Wireless, a regional mobile operator that provides cellular phone service in the area where the Kims were stranded. One of Edge Wireless' cell phone towers briefly connected with one of the family's phones at about 1:30 a.m. November 26 near Glendale, Ore. The phone was connected long enough to the network to send a notice that there was a voice mail or text message waiting. But the connection didn't last long enough for the Kims to retrieve the message or initiate a call for help.

Still, the connection was long enough that two Edge Wireless engineers, Eric Fuqua and Noah Pugsley, were able to find this information in the CDR to determine that the family was in sector "Z" in the southwestern portion of the cell site's 26-mile radius. Wolf Peak's "Z" sector provides coverage to remote areas with little population and very little cell phone traffic. Using this information, authorities sent out rescue teams, which eventually located Kati Kim and her children.

Anderson said that the family was lucky that they were Cingular Wireless subscribers. Edge Wireless uses the same GSM network technology that provides roaming coverage to Cingular customers. If the Kims' phone had been with a different provider that didn't have roaming coverage with Edge Wireless, then the company might not have received any signal at all after they left the major highway, and the cell phone would have been of little use to authorities trying to rescue them.

"Where the Kims' car was found was on the fringe of our coverage area as it was," Anderson said. "So it was a miracle that the phone was able to lock onto the network at all."

Anderson said that if people ever find themselves in a similar situation--lost and having difficulty getting cell phone reception--they should search for the highest ground or area that may be in the line of sight to a tower. They should hold the phone away from their bodies or high so it has no obstructions to a possible tower. It may take up to two or three minutes for it to synchronize or connect with the cell tower and mobile switching center. Even if they can connect for a second or two, it could be long enough to register a voice mail or text message, which could ultimately help wireless engineers track their location.

The E911 FCC regulations are likely to help rescuers find those who are lost even more quickly, even if people are unable to reach a 911 operator for help.

Phones sold today by Edge Wireless and other carriers using GSM network technology, such as Cingular and T-Mobile, comply with the FCC regulations using network-based technology that calculates a mobile phone's location in real time using signal analysis and triangulation between towers. Wireless carriers using CDMA network technology, such as Alltel, Verizon Wireless and Sprint Nextel, have GPS technology embedded in them to fulfill the E911 government mandate.

Both network and GPS location information allow authorities to send signals or pings directly to these handsets to find an approximate location of the phone.

Some cell phone operators, such as Disney Mobile, Boost Wireless and Helio, are using GPS-enabled phones to provide tracking services. Disney Mobile targets parents wanting to keep tabs on their small children, while Boost and Helio are marketing their services to appeal to young people who are looking to keep in touch with their friends.

Services that allow people to be tracked either through the cellular phone network or by satellite introduce some obvious privacy concerns. But Joe Farren, director of public affairs for CTIA- The Wireless Association, a trade organization representing mobile operators, said that is why people must opt-in to services that allow tracking.

Still, cell phones have their limitations. For example, battery life varies greatly. Some batteries last for several days, while others may lose power after only a few hours.

And even though cellular network coverage has improved tremendously over the past several years, it is still not ubiquitous in the United States. Even some urban areas have dead zones, particularly in buildings or underground. Rural and remote areas suffer most from lack of coverage. And these areas also happen to be places where people are most often stranded or lost.

All that said, Farren believes that cell phones will continue to play an important role in providing safety and security for people.

"Wireless phones are an incredible safety tool," he said. "They are the most valuable tool invented for some time. They save scores of lives. And they will continue to get better."



The proof of this pudding!

Woman found after 8 days stuck in car - Yahoo! News
By DONNA GORDON BLANKINSHIP, Associated Press Writer
September 28, 2007

SEATTLE - A woman who spent eight days trapped in a wrecked vehicle has severe injuries, but her brain function is normal and she can move her arms and legs, her physician said Friday.

Tanya Rider, 33, was found alive but dehydrated at the bottom of a steep ravine in suburban Maple Valley on Thursday, more than a week after she failed to return home from work. After being cut out of her SUV by rescuers, she was taken to Seattle's Harborview Medical Center, where she was in critical condition.

Dr. Lisa McIntyre said during a hospital news conference Friday that while Rider was doing better, she's "not out of the woods yet." McIntyre said Rider's kidneys failed because of toxins from a muscle injury in the crash and dehydration. She was sedated, on a ventilator and being treated with intravenous fluids.

Rider broke her collar bone and dislocated her shoulder in the accident and has pressure sores from the days of being held by the seat belt, probably upside down, the doctor said. Her caregivers were not yet sure the extent of a leg injury but McIntyre said they were hopeful it would not have to be amputated.

She said Rider was probably alive because she was young and healthy and was wearing a seat belt.

"She's a fighter, obviously," said Rider's husband, Tom. "She fought to stay alive in the car and she's fighting now."

Tom Rider said he was frustrated by the red tape he had to fight to get authorities to launch a search for his wife more than a week after she disappeared.

"Any policy that restricts officers from saving a life is a wrong policy," he said. "No one else should have to go through what she went through."

Authorities found the Maple Valley woman after detecting the general location of her digital cell phone Thursday morning, then searching along Highway 169 near Renton, southeast of Seattle, the route she took home from work. They noticed some matted brush, and below it found Rider's vehicle, smashed on its side, State Patrol spokesman Jeff Merrill said.

Tanya Rider left work at a Fred Meyer grocery store in Bellevue on Sept. 19 but never made it home. Tom Rider said that when he couldn't reach her, he called Bellevue police to report her missing.

Bellevue police took the report right away, but when they found video of Tanya Rider getting into her car after work, they told her husband the case was out of their jurisdiction and he should notify King County, he said. Tom Rider said he tried that, but "the first operator I talked to on the first day I tried to report it flat denied to start a missing persons report because she didn't meet the criteria," he said.

"I basically hounded them until they started a case and then, of course, I was the first focal point, so I tried to get myself out of the way as quickly as possible. I let them search the house. I told them they didn't have to have a warrant for anything, just ask," he said.

Thursday morning, detectives asked him to come in to sign for a search of phone records. They also asked him to take a polygraph test.

"By the time he was done explaining the polygraph test to me, the detective burst into the room with a cell phone map that had a circle on it," he said.

His wife's car tumbled about 20 feet down a ravine and lay buried below brush and blackberry bushes. The air bags deployed, but she was injured and trapped. Rescuers had to cut the roof off to get her out.

"I know there were delays (in finding her) because of red tape," Tom Rider said.

Tom Rider said he also drove the route where his wife was found but didn't see any sign of a crash. He also offered a $25,000 reward for any information leading to her safe return.

Authorities said they followed procedure in the case.

"It's not that we didn't take him seriously," Deputy Rodney C. Chinnick said. "We don't take every missing person report on adults. ... If we did, we'd be doing nothing but going after missing person reports."

In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, any copyrighted work in this message is distributed under fair use without profit or payment for non-profit research and educational purposes only.


Webmeister's Note: I believe there should be a national dialog about this "new" E911 ability to search digital cell phone records to find missing people.
Read More: Missing California family found, dad dies from exposure and hypothermia--Robert Speik


The rest of the story

Deschutes County Sheriffs Search and Rescue Volunteer Coordinator Al Hornish, a 12 year veteran of DCSAR, stated the following in an interview published on January 26, 2012 in the Bend Oregon Source Weekly: "We have grown a lot over the past decade." "The nature of missions has changed as well. There are more Rescues and less Searches, mostly because of the better technology available." Read More.
--Robert Speik, January 26, 2012

Wednesday, July 7, 2010, or nearly four months since my fall off Mount Temple. After so much time, there is much to dwell on. The negatives: the pain of so many fractures, the sleeplessness, the drugs and the messed up things they do to you. It’s easy to get stuck in the negative; yet some part of me is drawn there by some morbid fascination.
How big am I then? Not very. I made a mistake, a pretty small mistake. Or more honestly, I made a series of pretty small mistakes. I almost died for these transgressions. I would have died if it had not been for a cell phone and the chain of events it was able to put into motion. (I’ve owned a cell phone for barely six years.) I might not have died that very day, March 25, 2010, but from where we were, we were a long, long way from the medical care my injuries demanded: a trained trauma surgeon in an Emergency Room. Perhaps I would have lasted one night. Maybe not. It changes my perspective about what a day means. Carpe diem no longer seems some frat-boy cry to party. Today, means everything.  The Steve House Training Blog

Deschutes County Sheriff's Search and Rescue Deputy Jim Whitcomb, assistant SAR coordinator reports on a recent 911 "false alarm". He notes that the inadvertent activation happened in a pack with an older SPOT-1 device. Whitcomb said it was a first-generation version that’s easier to accidentally set off while in a pack. “It is important to remember that technology can be a great asset, but can just as easily be a liability,” the deputy said in a news release, urging users of such devices to regularly monitor such gear. SAR will respond to all SPOT activations, treating them as an emergency, unless contact can be made with whoever is carrying the device, to confirm otherwise, Whitcomb said. Read More,
--Robert Speik, July 22, 2012


A suggested minimum standard media advisory for all backcountry travelers

"We would like to take this opportunity to ask our visitors to the backcountry of Central Oregon to plan for the unexpected.  Each person should dress for the forecast weather and take minimum extra clothing protection from a drop in temperature and possible rain or storm or an unexpected cold wet night out and insulation from the wet ground or snow, high carbohydrate snacks, two quarts of water, a topo map and adjusted base plate compass, an optional inexpensive GPS and the skills to use them, and a digital cell phone in a secure pocket fully charged. Each person should carry the new personal "Ten Essential Systems" in a light day pack sized for the season and the forecast weather. This gear should weigh only five or six pounds depending on the season.

Visitors are reminded to tell a Responsible Person where they are going, where they plan to park, when they will be back and to make sure that person understands that they are relied upon to call 911 at a certain time if the backcountry traveler has not returned."



"To provide information and instruction about world-wide basic to advanced alpine mountain climbing safety skills and gear, on and off trail hiking, scrambling and light and fast Leave No Trace backpacking techniques based on the foundation of an appreciation for the Stewardship of the Land, all illustrated through photographs and accounts of actual shared mountaineering adventures."

TraditionalMountaineering is founded on the premise that "He who knows naught, knows not that he knows naught", that exploring the hills and summitting peaks have dangers that are hidden to the un-informed and that these inherent risks can be IN PART, identified and mitigated by mentoring: information, training, wonderful gear, and knowledge gained through the experiences of others.

The value of TraditionalMountaineering to our Friends and Subscribers is the selectivity of the information we provide, and its relevance to introducing folks to informed hiking on the trail, exploring off the trail, mountain travel and Leave-no-Trace light-weight bivy and backpacking, technical travel over steep snow, rock and ice, technical glacier travel and a little technical rock climbing on the way to the summit. Whatever your capabilities and interests, there is a place for everyone in traditional alpine mountaineering.




Mountain climbing has inherent dangers that can, only in part, be mitigated

Read more . . .
Yuppie 911 devices take the search out of Search and Rescue
Use your personal digital cell phone for backcountry and mountaineering!
Gear grist, an article written for The Mountaineer, the monthly magazine of The Mountaineers
Robert Speik writes: "There is no denying the sense of cell" for The Mountaineer
Snowboarder lost overnight near Mount Bachelor, rescued by SAR 
Expert skier lost five days in North Cascades without Essentials, map and compass
Woman leaves car stuck in snow near Klamath Falls, dies from exposure
Clinic on Real Survival Strategies and Staying Found with Map, Compass and GPS together
What do you carry in your winter day and summit pack?
Why are "Snow Caves" dangerous?
Why are "Space Blankets" dangerous?
Why are "Emergency Kits" dangerous?
How can you avoid Hypothermia?
Missing climbers on Mount Hood, one dies of exposure, two believed killed in fall
Missing California family found, dad dies from exposure and hypothermia
Missing man survives two weeks trapped in snow-covered car
Missing snowmobile riders found, Roger Rouse dies from hypothermia
Olympic Champion Rulon Gardner lost on snowmobile!
Lost Olympic hockey player looses feet to cold injury

Expert skier lost five days near resort in North Cascades without map, compass, gps or cell phone
Mount Hood - The Episcopal School Tragedy
Mount Hood - experienced climbers rescued from snow cave
How can you learn the skills of snow camping?   Prospectus

Lost and Found
Three climbers missing on Mt. Hood, all perish
Missing California family found, dad dies from exposure and hypothermia
Missing man survives two weeks trapped in snow-covered car
Missing snowmobile riders found, Roger Rouse dies from hypothermia
Longacre Expeditions teen group rescued from the snowdrifts above Todd Lake
Lost climber hikes 6.5 miles from South Sister Trail to Elk Lake
Hiking couple lost three nights in San Jacinto Wilderness find abandoned gear
Expert skier lost five days in North Cascades without Essentials, map and compass
Climber disappears on the steep snow slopes of Mount McLaughlin
Hiker lost five days in freezing weather on Mount Hood
Professor and son elude search and rescue volunteers
Found person becomes lost and eludes rescuers for five days
Teens, lost on South Sister, use cell phone with Search and Rescue
Lost man walks 27 miles to the highway from Elk Lake Oregon
Snowboarder Found After Week in Wilderness
Searchers rescue hiker at Smith Rock, find lost climbers on North Sister
Girl Found In Lane County After Lost On Hiking Trip
Search and rescue finds young girls lost from family group
Portland athlete lost on Mt. Hood
Rescues after the recent snows
Novice couple lost in the woods
Broken Top remains confirmed as missing climber
Ollalie Trail - OSU Trip - Lost, No Map, Inadequate Clothing

 Your Essential Light Day Pack
What are the new Ten Essential Systems?
What does experience tell us about Light and Fast climbing?
What is the best traditional alpine mountaineering summit pack?
What is Light and Fast alpine climbing?
What do you carry in your day pack?      Photos?    
What do you carry in your winter day pack?       Photos?    
What should I know about "space blankets"?
Where can I get a personal and a group first aid kit?      Photos?

 Carboration and Hydration
Is running the Western States 100 part of "traditional mountaineering"?
What's wrong with GORP?    Answers to the quiz!
Why do I need to count carbohydrate calories?
What should I know about having a big freeze-dried dinner?
What about carbo-ration and fluid replacement during traditional alpine climbing?   4 pages in pdf  
What should I eat before a day of alpine climbing?

  About Alpine Mountaineering:
  The Sport of Alpine Mountaineering
  Climbing Together
  Following the Leader
  The Mountaineers' Rope
  Basic Responsibilities       Cuatro Responsabiliades Basicas de Quienes Salen al Campo
  The Ten Essentials         Los Diez Sistemas Esenciales

  Our Leader's Guidelines:
  Our Volunteer Leader Guidelines
  Sign-in Agreements, Waivers and Prospectus     This pdf form will need to be signed by you at the trail head
  Sample Prospectus    Make sure every leader tells you what the group is going to do; print a copy for your "responsible person"
  Participant Information Form    This pdf form can be printed and mailed or handed to the Leader if requested or required
  Emergency and Incident Report Form    Copy and print this form. Carry two copies with your Essentials 
  Participant and Group First Aid Kit    Print this form. Make up your own first aid essentials (kits) 

  About our World Wide Website:

  Map, Compass and GPS
Map, compass and GPS navigation training Noodle in The Badlands
BLM guidelines for Geocaching on public lands
Geocaching on Federal Forest Lands
OpEd - Geocaching should not be banned in the Badlands
Winter hiking in The Badlands WSA just east of Bend
Searching for the perfect gift
Geocaching: What's the cache?
Geocaching into the Canyon of the Deschutes
Can you catch the geocache?
Z21 covers Geocaching
Tour The Badlands with ONDA 
The art of not getting lost
Geocaching: the thrill of the hunt!
GPS in the news
A GPS and other outdoor gadgets make prized gifts
Wanna play?  Maps show you the way
Cooking the "navigation noodle"